Bruce Sinofsky who, along with his creative partner Joe Berlinger, directed the landmark 2003 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and the trilogy of Paradise Lost films that led to the freeing of the wrongly-convicted “West Memphis Three,” has passed away due to complications from diabetes. He was 58.
Upon the news breaking of Sinofsky’s death, Joe Berlinger stated: “Bruce’s humanity is on every frame of the films that he leaves behind, and words can’t express how graced I feel my life has been by having the extraordinary opportunity of being able to say we were partners and, more importantly, best friends.”
Metallica also reacted to the tragedy with a website post declaring: “We lost a valued member of our family today, as award winning filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky passed away this morning… Our thoughts and prayers are with Bruce’s family and friends. We will miss Bruce. A courageous man with deep empathy and wisdom who wasn’t afraid to dig deep to tell the story.”
The documentary team of Sinofsky and Berlinger debuted to high praise in 1992 with Brother’s Keeper, a chilling true-crime saga set in the seldom-explored gothic milieu of deeply rural upstate New York. As a follow-up, the pair went south, specifically to Arkansas, where, for the HBO series America Undercover, they made Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hills (1996).
Chronicling the aftermath of a savage mutilation-homicide, Paradise Lost, by simply and powerfully exposing the facts, cast doubt against the teenagers convicted of the crime who were initially sentenced to death: a trio of heavy metal music fans who dressed in black and thereby frightened many locals.
Shortly after Paradise Lost aired, support for the teens, known as the West Memphis Three, grew from hard rock artists who knew the case. to music fans and fellow fringe culture travelers to, ultimately, the general public. Metallica spearheaded the cause early on, along Sinofsky and Berlinger to score all three Paradise Lost films with the group’s music (a rarity on the Metallica’s part).
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) documents the agony of the West Memphis Three during their wrongful incarceration, while the Academy-Award-nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) triumphantly climaxes in a courtroom where, after more than eighteen years, justice finally lands.
Metallica nobly stood by the West Memphis Three throughout their ordeal. As a result, the members of Metallica became friendly with Sinofsky and Berlinger, and asked the team to film the making of their album St. Anger during a particularly turbulent time for the group personally and professionally.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a masterpiece of warts-and-all cinema verite. If viewers can’t help but blanch at the entitled attitudes and bratty behavior of a couple of the rich, famous rock stars on screen (hint: one of them is not Kirk Hammett), the film’s final effect was to humanize Metallica and to elicit appreciation for the courage it took for such powerful figures to allow all that behind-closed-doors ugliness to go public. That result arises purely from the mastery of Sinofsky and Berlinger as filmmakers.
Regarding Monster, Metallica’s official statement goes on to point out: “Smart, funny and dedicated, Bruce was with us almost every day in the early 2000’s and was an integral part of helping us to navigate the rough waters during those times. Although not very welcomed at times, he was there through some of the darkest times of Metallica. He became a dedicated comfort and visual lifeboat, while objectively observing the unraveling and rebuilding of our inner and outer selves.”
At present, we live in a golden age of hard rock and heavy metal documentaries. Brilliant new films constantly come forth now from directors such as Sam Dunn, Don Argott, and a host of others. All that work, and the infinite wellspring of top-tier nonfiction rock films yet to be made, exists as the legacy of Bruce Sinofsky’s pioneering efforts and now immortal accomplishments.
Hail and farewell to Bruce Sinofsky as a blazing talent, a relentlessly inventive crusader, and a friend to all whose live he touched—and that’s a list that will rock onward into infinity.
[Photo: Getty Images]